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Reducing Foodborne Illness: A Comprehensive Guide for Eaters and Eateries Alike

With the recent awareness of widespread viruses and the ever-emerging news of repeat offenders such as Chipotle and Jimmy John’s, it’s no surprise that restaurants in general are suffering a sharp decline in customers. The more foodborne illness issues come to light, the more the public’s confidence in America’s food service industry seems to wane. Increasing that confidence begins by increasing food safety knowledge on both sides of the fence. While most customers aren’t food service employees, most diner operators are also dining guests, and that mutual perspective comes with an advantage.

How Restaurants Can Keep Customers Safe

Reducing restaurant outbreaks is a team effort. Each employee plays a key role in maintaining food safety.

Managers should lead by example, enforce best practice protocols, and train to ensure that all employees understand and follow food safety procedures. Solid HACCP plans and daily checklists can be valuable resources for maintaining the proper prep and storage of food. As well, managers should refrain from penalizing employees who call out sick, as it is far easier for a dining establishment to be short-staffed than to manage a Norovirus  or other outbreak.

Servers and kitchen staff play an even bigger role in ensuring food safety. For starters, food prep employees are largely responsible for preventing cross-contamination. They should achieve this by washing their hands and sanitizing surfaces and utensils between ingredients. Gloves should be worn at all times and monitored accordingly. All produce should be thoroughly washed before use and all food should be stored properly in a temperature-monitored unit to prevent the growth of bacteria. Likewise, all food should be cooked to the proper internal temperature to avoid risk of contamination.

If all food service professionals involved do their part, the chance of outbreaks and the consequences that follow, are greatly reduced.

How Customers Can Stay Safe While Dining

In the case of a restaurant slip-up, guests can keep themselves safe by being observant and vigilant in these areas:

Check Inspection Scores

Most Health Department scores are made visible to the public in the window and/or at the counter of any food service establishment. When in doubt, you can check a restaurant’s score at your health department’s website and even request a copy of the report.

Look For Food Safety Training Certificates

Many kitchen managers undergo food safety training that can help improve practices to reduce the risk of contamination and other risk factors.  Many US jurisdictions require at least one Certified Food Protection Manager per foodservice establishment certified by an organization such as ServSafe or the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals.

Make Sure Your Food Is Properly Cooked

Meats, poultry, and fish should be cooked to an internal temperature that is high enough to kill harmful germs. Cut through meats before ingesting. Search for signs of pink chicken and raw or cold internal areas of meat. When in doubt, send food back to be further cooked.

Avoid Lukewarm Food

Hot food should be hot, and cold food should be cold. When selecting from a buffet, make sure that any hot food is steaming and that cold food is chilled. Microbes that cause food poisoning grow best between temps of 41°F and 135°F.

Ask Your Server

Raw milk and undercooked or unpasteurized eggs are often responsible for food illness, and can be present in salad dressings, custard, tiramisu, or hollandaise sauce. Ask your food server if they utilize pasteurized products in their foods.

Store Leftovers Quickly

Most leftovers should be stored in the fridge within 2 hours of receiving them (1 hour if it’s above 90°F outside) and should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. Throw out any remaining leftovers after 4 days.

These simple precautions can keep us safe and aid in reducing the spread of foodborne illness.

If your food service establishment is in need of SOPs, training, or support, you can contact us here. Together, we can change the food industry for the better.

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Matthew McClure provides sound strategies that instill cost-effective methods for building robust food safety, operational and quality assurance programs. Along with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Microbiology from The University of Akron and an MBA in Finance from Louisiana State University, Matthew brings over 20 years of experience in the food safety industry to AVERT Food Safety Advisors. His knowledge spans many areas including FDA food processing facilities, USDA meat and poultry plants, dietary supplement manufacturers, retail, cannabis manufacturing, and food service operations.

Contact us for more information:

info@avertfoodsafety.com | Tel: +1 702.706.6574

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